Improving diversity through practical changes

With protests calling for greater racial equality occurring across the globe, improving diversity in the pensions industry has come under the spotlight. Pensions Age speaks to Andrien Meyers, on the practical steps the industry can take to improve diversity. Meyers is councilman at the City of London and head of treasury and pensions at the London Borough of Lambeth

Improving diversity within the pensions industry is something that all companies and organisations should be striving for, and with the ongoing protests around the world calling for greater racial equality, the sector should be considering further ways in which it can better reflect society.

There are initiatives, such as the Pension and Lifetime Savings Association’s Breaking the Mirror Image campaign, which seek to raise awareness and drive change, but more must be done.

Andrien Meyers has been head of treasury and pensions at London Borough of Lambeth, the fund of which has £1.6bn in assets, since 2007.

He is also a councilman at City of London Corporation, where he is deputy chair of both its Property Investment Board and the Social Investment Board, and also sits on its Financial Investment Board. Together they amount to around £7bn of assets under management.

On 8 June, Meyers penned an open letter to his fellow councilmen and women to thank them for their supportive responses to recent events, but to also ask them to help in making a positive change.

He spoke to Pensions Age on the ways in which the pensions and investments industry could take similar practical steps on improving diversity.

“It starts with education,” began Meyers. “If you go into a school and talk to 14- or 15-year olds, they’re not aware that there is a career in investments for them. Once they get to know there is something, it piques their interest. I think that starting at grassroots education is important.

“Education is crucial in getting young adults to come into the investment industry in the first place. I say that because it then gives career progression, and diversity, within a firm or on a board a better chance.

“Secondly, people need to recognise that there is some unconscious bias. For example, you are looking at a board and there are 12 members, and we want to make it more diverse. We’ll get one woman on, one young person on and one ethnic minority. So, all of a sudden, the composition has changed to 9+1+1+1.

“But you need to understand that that one young person might not feel comfortable in the midst the other 11, in the same way one ethnic minority person may not feel comfortable. There needs to be a genuine balance and for existing board members to acknowledge that there is a form of unconscious bias, and how that needs to be addressed.”

Meyers stated that for changes in board and committee make-up to occur, the reporting of data needs to improve.

He continued: “Most firms should have this on an HR database, they should be able to know what data they have. You can then set up career progression initiatives to help get ethnic minorities, women, or young adults through the career ladder and onto these committees and boards. Then, reporting on that over the years would help them enhance what they have. In doing so, it helps you shape your diversity policies as it helps you understand where you are and where you are going.”

Some in the industry worry that to improve diversity you have to ‘lower the bar’, but Meyers insisted that this is not the case.

“Some people say that there is not enough people coming through, and that is true, but that doesn’t mean that when it comes to recruitment, whether it is for a member of staff or for a board position, you can’t widen the net.

“Widen the pool of people you are looking at. People say they do not want to lower the bar; I am not saying lower the bar, just widen the net. Tailor your recruitment strategies to employees or board members which give a bigger pool of people a chance to put themselves forward. You can do that through career progression strategies, training and mentoring programmes, or supporting initiatives in schools.”

Meyers also suggested that setting maximum terms for board members could help improve diversity on pension and investment boards, as it would give new talent coming through, from a more diverse membership, a better chance.

“I say this as someone who looks after a LGPS fund and sits on the board of another. When we look at the membership of our pension fund, there is a massive number of ethnic minorities that form that. So, your board should be reflective of that. Companies and boards need to take more proactive and practical steps to move this forward.”

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